Oldest Greenbrier Church Loses Pastor
By Shirley Donnelly
September 18, 1972
Oldest Greenbrier Church Loses Pastor By Shirley Donnelly
Passing through Alderson the other day someone told me that the minister of Old Greenbrier Baptist Church had resigned the charge of that congregation and was moving to another pastorate.
This is the oldest church of any faith or denomination in Greenbrier County. It was organized by the Rev. John Alderson (March 5, 1738-March 5, 1821), a native of New Jersey. It was on Nov. 24, 1781 - six weeks after the surrender of Cornwallis and the end of the Revolutionary War - that this venerable church was formed with 12 members.
Two of them were Rev. and Mrs. Alderson. A third member was Thomas Alderson, brother of John, a Revolutionary War soldier, and a veteran of the Yorktown campaign which sealed the fate of the British there.
The lot on which the first Greenbrier County church was erected was donated to the newly created congregation by William Morris, brother-in-law of the minister. Morris and John Alderson married sisters, Nancy and Mary Carroll.
Those two sisters were distantly related to Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a Catholic. When he signed the Declaration of Independence, he was told if the King of England captured him as a traitor that he could say it was another Charles Carroll. Carroll also affixed his address so that there could be no mistake as to which Charles Carroll had signed.
When ground was broken in 1828 for the start of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, Carroll, then 90, and the last surviving signee of the Declaration, turned the first shovelful of dirt. He said as he struck the spade into the ground with a firm hand, "I consider this among the most important acts of my life, second only to that of signing the Declaration of Independence, if second even to that."
John Alderson was the first Baptist minister to penetrate what is now Southern West Virginia. In 1774 and again in 1776 he made two trips to the Greenbrier Valley. It required 18 months to make the trip in a wagon. His was the first wagon to reach the spot where he was to found the Old Greenbrier Baptist Church, the crowning effort of his life.
On the trip disturbing intelligence reached the missionary pastor at Jackson's River. There the settlers told him that the Indians had attacked the home of Col. James Graham at present day Lowell. Reasoning that discretion is the better part of valor, Alderson waited on Jackson's River until he learned it was safe to continue.
That home of James Graham is still occupied at Lowell. It is a two-story log house and one of the few remaining structures in this area that dates back to the Revolutionary era.
The first Alderson church was a log structure. Following the organization of the church it was received into the Kecockton Baptist Association. In 1796, the church united with the New River Association, a group of 10 churches. In 1801 the Greenbrier Baptist Association was formed and the Old Greenbrier Church became and still is a constituent member.
Alderson was one to plant churches where ever he thought one might live. It is said he founded no less than nine churches. He was a leading church man of his day.
When he died he was laid to rest immediately back of the present beautiful house of worship, the fourth this old church has had in its 191 years. When the 175th year of the church was celebrated in 1956, it was my lot to deliver the address.
In the 1791 Register of the Baptist Denomination in America, John Asplund, who travelled 7,000 miles on horseback to collect the statistics, Greenbrier church reported 38 members on Feb. 8, 1791. One of the few known copies of Asplund's Register is in my library. It is signed by "John Asplund, a Sweed," and dated July 14, 1791, Southampton County, Va.