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November 21, 2010.

METHODIST CHURCH HISTORY from the Knotts Island Diary written by Sue Fentress Austin and based on her mother's diary, (Lydia Adell Brumley Fentress)

Entries in the Colonial Vestry Book of Lynnhaven Parish, Princess Anne County, Virginia 1723-1786 indicate that as early as 1725 Knotts Islanders were holding religious services in private homes. It was noted that due to the distance factor, the appointed vestry clerk traveled to Knotts Island every six weeks.

Caleb Ansell, a Knotts Island native, obtained a grant from Edenton Assembly in 1771, to build a church, but there is no proof that it was for a Methodist Church. Records seem to indicate that a church was built on the present site in 1811. Knotts Island first joined the Virginia Conference in 1814 with the assurance of always being supplied with a minister. And indeed, two circuit riders were sent to service the Suffolk-Princess Anne communities in the very early days.

According to Henry Ansell’s published recollections concerning his boyhood days on Knotts Island, there really was no church worthy of its name prior to 1832. Mr. Ansell, who was born in 1832, recalled an old building still sitting on skids being used as a meeting place when he was a youngster of four. The first real church, however, was built about 1836. According to an article in The Virginian-Pilot and The Portsmouth Star Norfolk-Portsmouth, Virginia dated May 13, 1956, reporter Louisa Venable Kyle wrote that it “was a frame building with a simple A roof. It had two doors at the front of the building, one for the women to enter and one for men. Families divided in the last generation and then men sat on one side of the church and the women on the other." Indeed , even at the front of the church the two sexes were divided into squares — the older women sat on the left side square and the older men, on the right side. Older folks tend to have hearing problems and this was probably how a country church dealt with the "not being able to hear" complaints! No doubt both the older men and white-haired women preferred their own little "spot" at the front.

Knotts Island’s religious awakening appeared to have gotten underway by Preacher "Tom" Jones during the mid-1840s. The calamitious "wet summer" of 1842 when the floods were so disastrous to crops and starvation loomed as a real possibility, had given these simple folk much to ponder about God’s wrath upon sinners. These so-called sinners were indeed ripe for the picking by a good hell-fire and brimstone preacher. It was said that nearly a hundred mourners could be heard and seen praying in the church, in the dry swamp and the woods close-by during a Revival. A sinner did not just "get religion" in those days — one had to earnestly pray for the "electric flash" that was deemed essential for a true conversion. People prayed on their knees day and night and if grace did not come from God in the prescribed manner, it meant one was still in the clutches of the Devil. Existing records show that in 1846 there were 223 Methodists.

Another interesting item of note is that Yankee soldiers were actually billeted in the church when a garrison of men were placed on the Island during the War Between the States.

Much of the information contained herein relating to long ago church procedures, members, and the “whatevers" was found in many places. Some came from the musty, falling apart church records, other information was derived from numerous Homecoming Bulletins saved over the many, many years by our Adell and other information came from faded and yellowed articles also saved by Adell relating to the history of Knotts Island. She, the author believes, must have sensed its historical importance to those who would come after. Nothing was throvm away, just tucked away in a trunk. A few notes were taken by the author from historical information put out by Jane Miller Brumley and her brother, Allan, during the 1980s at the Knotts Island School in a classroom setting.

In an older 1875 Methodist Sunday School Record Book is written “THE SABBATH SCHOOL,” and it told about the reorganization taking place that year. Since the Baptist Church had morning services, the Methodist decided to have theirs during the afternoon. This setup would enable folks to attend both churches if they wished, and many did. The time was probably 2 o’clock. The new officers for the afternoon services when reorganized in 1875 were Tully Capps, Superintendent; Wilson Cooper, Assistant Superintendent; William H. Cooper, Secretary; Caleb D. White, Assistant Secretary; Cornelius Jones, Treasurer and James White, Librarian. Eleven conversions were experienced in Sabbath School with last names of Ansell, Cooper, Jones, White, Waterfield, Williams, Capps, Bonney, Brumley, Batten and Litchfield. And class members with these names, plus others: Bowden, Yale, Gordon, Wicker, Simpson, Grimstead, Smith, Waterman, Beasley, Spratt, Corbell, Etheridge, Newman, Whitworth, Dudley, Caffee and Flannagan. From January 1875 until June 1875, the number in Sabbath School increased from 78 to 108. Monies “raised" in 1880 - $22.55 and $2.11 for missions. Lights for the church cost 99 cents! These were not electric lights, but lighting that came from Delco batteries.

By 1887 the Charge had become too large for one preacher to handle alone. The Quarter Conference that year created the South Princess Anne Circuit which consisted of numerous churches from Charity on down to Currituck Inlet. These actual churches were Charity, Tabernacle, Nimmo, Providence, Salem, Beech Grove, Bethel, Little Neck, Wash Woods, Knotts Island and Currituck Inlet. According to Reverend D. G. C. Butts, in his book Saddle to City By Buggy, Boat and Railway, at the November 1885 Conference, Bishop John C. Keener appointed him to the Princess Anne Circuit, with ll churches. He preached at Knotts Island and Bethel on the 4th Sundays. In July 1886 a great Revival was begun on the charge at Knotts Island with many souls saved. And he had visited all his members, 1069 by this time! (8 months) Nearly 400 were added to his Churches in 1886.

In an article in The Virginian-Pilot and The Portsmouth Star Norfolk-Portsmouth, Virginia newspaper dated May 13, 1956, reporter Louise Venable Kyle wrote about the arrival of the Reverend Robert Pierre and his wife, Helen in 1955, who were to be the first ever “Methodist Church Parsonage Family.” Kyle said that "Knotts Island has never before had its minister live on the Island, with the people. From the begimiing, the people who live here on Currituck Sound have had to depend on having the word of God brought to them by the old circuit riders, by the reading of church services in private homes, and by sharing a minister with another church.”

Through the intervening years our little community shared a preacher with many other churches in the Princess Anne and South Princess Anne Stations. But in the early 1940s things did begin to get better — we began to share a minister (Billing) with ONLY two other churches, both located in old Princess Anne County, and a part of the Norfolk District. To this day we are the only North Carolina church in the Virginia Conference.

The present Knotts Island United Methodist Church located near the center of the Island, is the third building erected on this site. Fire demolished the other two. Len Smith and Ed Waterfield drew the plans for our present building which was completed in 1911. They also helped with the work of the construction with Mr. Waterfield’s son Carl Waterfield, Jim Bowden, Walter L. Beasley and John Beasley. Mrs. Beatrice Etheridge recalled her father, Walter Beasley, taking her in the Church and telling how he put up the beautiful "beaded" ceiling, and putting the pews in. (To make the number on hand fit the interior, no two pews are spaced the same.) Many ofthe descendants and ancestors of our church tell of being taken to church as children in buggies and hitching the horses outside to trees. The fine art pattern on the lower panels inside the church were done with a comb and fingers.

The Educational Building was added in 1950, and an additional three rooms and bath in 1971. In 1955 Knotts Island welcomed Reverend Robert Pierre as its first full-time pastor. A new brick parsonage was built next to the church, on the "old school house” property. At that time the church had 175 members on the rolls.

In 1984 more than $17,000 was raised for improvements to the church and parsonage. The beautiful stain glass windows of the church were repaired and covered, an Allen Organ was purchased and new piano and organ lamps. Air conditioning was also installed in the parsonage. In July of 1985, the church was painted, at a cost of $11,500. Even new storm windows and doors were added to the Educational Building, all to the Glory of God!

We have had a Homecoming since May 1928 thanks to the efforts of E. W. Bowden. It became more of a Memorial Service in recent years and was always on the third Sunday in May. The people of Knotts Island have considered it as a Homecoming Day since people get together for fellowship with old and new friends.

Now let us go back, to the years just before Adell’s diary was written and let our eyes wander through the many names attending the Methodist Church Sunday School (formerly known as Sabbath School). These names represent our Knotts Island community. Actually a great many of these names also attended the Baptist Church each Sunday morning too. The Brumley Family certainly did. And notice too the numerous Sunday School classes being compressed into our present church building — remember there was NO Social Hall and classrooms in those days! It has been suggested that during some years the "old school building" which was situated where the Parsonage now sits was partially used for church activities. The author even recalls attending some type of church activity, maybe Bible School, in the old building in the late 1940s/very early ‘50s. The following classes made up Sunday School during the years of 1928-1931. And remember something else very important, reading other people’s handwriting was interesting in itself. Some family names are terribly misspelled; the author knew this, but spelled everything as written out by the unknown hands. That is as it should be.

Class No. 1 (Teacher): Vandelia Bonney
Stella Beasley, Georgie Stevens, Verna White, Alice Ansell, Belinda Waterfield, Julia White, Lelia White, Beulah Grimstead, Mary Delon, Ella Williams, Eulith Capps, Lydia Anne Jones, Minnie Brumley, Fannie Bowden, Alice Fentress, Alice Jones, Sena Jones, Alyda Hughes, Bettie Munden, Sarah Corbell, Bettie Etheridge, Fannie Cooper, Lola Newman, Laurel Jones, Emily Simpson, Mary Ward, Lecie Newman, Essie White, Sadie Corbell, Minnie White and Katherine Steele. These ladies were probably in their mid-30s, plus.

Class No. 2 (Teacher(s): Rebbie Ansel/Clara Simpson)
Ethel Ansell, Pamelia Grimstead, Lydia Waterfield, Dallie Jones, Maude Beasley, Nellie Litchfield, Ella Grimstead, Pat Miller, Minnie Jones, Alice Wade, Hettie White, Mollie Waterman and Lillie Brumley.

Class No. 3 (Teacher(s): Lucille Bonney/Annie Etheridge/Mamie Waterfield)
Lucille Arkerson, Ruth Beasley, Nancy Capps, Agnes Waterfield, Lucille Bonney, Mamie Fentress, Viola Waterman, Maude Beasley, Alyda Beasley, Lyndia Munden, Pauline Munden, Gladys Waterfield, Evlin Campbell, Nita Brumley and Adell Brumley. The young women of this class were in their teens/early 20’s and some were also married.

Class No 4 (Teacher): Charlie Jones)
Bradie Williams, Mary Waterfield, Eloise Jones, Illma Waterfield, Vilma Litchfield, Rhetta Newman, Mary Ruth White, Luther James Beasley, William Doxey, Tilford Wade, Ira Jones, Willie Fentress, Harold Jones, Philip Waterman, Harold Capps, Oswald Arkerson, Edmond White, Herman Guy Jones, Vivian Waterfield, Lucy Bonney and Scott Etheridge. A mixed class of young teens.

Class No. 5 (Teacher: Susie Waterfield)
Frances Grimstead, Lloyd White, Hope Arkerson, Alden Waterman, Russell Litchfield, Madge Williams, Tilford Williams, Ellen Page Jones, Irma Waterfield, Preston Jones, Fannie Belle Jones, Lucille Grimstead, Hope Williams, Violet Hughes, Vemice Williams, Mary Eliz Jones, Every Vance Williams, Louise Doxey, Ruth Brumley, Jennings Ansell, Roy Bonney, Lendell Waterman and Irene Waterfield. The children in this class were ages 9-ll most likely.

Class No. 6 (Teacher(s): Mildred White/Grace Williams)
Harvey Grimstead, Lillian Mae Jones, Marjorie Corbell, Tunis Corbell, Jr., Thurlow Ansell, Alfred White, Dayton Williams, Clinton Williams, Elma Williams, Victor Wade, Melva White, Evelyn Dixon, Margaret Munden, Mardell Williams, Elsie Mae Waterfield, Ray Beasley, Alston White, Irwin Hughes, Melvin Hughes, Gardon Ward Munden, Edna May Ansell, William Grimstead, Bertie May White, Burnley Waterman, Burnice Ray Arkerson, Blanch Grimstead, Margueritte Ansell, Edgar Wright Brtunley and Ruby White. Children in this class were probably 4-5-6-7-8 years old.

Class No. 7 (Teacher(s): Katherine Jones/Alyda Hughes)
Frances Ansell, Gertie Bonney, Hettie Poyner, Nema Bonney, Ada Waterfield, Annie Waterfield, Efie Waterfield, Elsie Watertield, Goldie Grimstead, Myrtle Williams, Ressie Williams, Maywood Waterfield, Thelma Waterfield, Florence Carpenter, Pearl Taylor and Edna Goodwin.

Class No. 8 (Teacher: Addie White)
No information listed.

Class No. 9 (Teacher(s): J. B. Litchfield/N. B.Etheridge/L. D. Matthews)
Alonzo Ansell, Frank Hughes, F. Bonney, J. C. Beasley, H. G. Jones, J. E. Munden, Sr., C. T. Capps, P. C. Jones, L. F. White, J. B. Etheridge, John Corbell, Marion Watertield and D. B. Waterfield.

Class No 10 (Teacher: L. C. Arkerson)
Willie Ansell, R. J. Bonney, C. W. Watertield, Leslie Watertield, J. T. Corbell, Romie Cason, Orville Arkerson, Roland Beasley, J. L.Miller, F. E. Munden, Emory Beasley, L. R. Fentress ("Ross”), Eliott Williams, Fred Ansell, Clyde Williams, J. W. Waterman, Garland Williams, Ed Williams, A. J. Ansell, E. L.White, James Miller, Rufus Ballance and Charlie Berry

Class No. 11 (Teacher(s): C. B. Ansel]/A. E. Litchfield)
C. R. Wade, O. H. Bonney, T. H. Delon, J. B. Jones, J. E. Grimstead, C. E. Jones, E.W. Brumley, W. B. White, A. J. Waterman, E. D. Bowden, H. C. Waterfield, A. E. Litchfield, J. J. Ward, Alonzo Ansell and W. B. Simpson. Men in this class probably were in the 40 + age group.

Class No. 12 (Teacher: E. L. Waterfield)
No information listed.

The number of names listed for the 12 classrooms is impressive to the eye, but read further about the monies collected during that era.
CLASS NO. NUMBER PRESENT AMOUNT OF MONEY COLLECTED
1       16       .90
2         5       .08
3         4       .14
4       17       .50
5         9       .23
6         7       .16
7       12       .76
8         5       .34
9       10       .75
10     10       .75
11       6       .06
12       --       .15
Total   115   $4.66

The 1930’s Committee for Children’s Day was Mrs. Russell Jones, Mrs. Willie Ansell and Mrs. David Waterfield. Mrs. David was the mother of Adell’s good friend, Lester.

During this same period of 1928-32, the church officers for Sunday School were: R. B. Litchfield, Superintendent; Mrs. Addie White, Assistant Superintendent; Miss Nina White, Secretary; Morrison Williams, Treasurer; Sidney White, Librarian; Milton Waterfield (position unknown); Mrs. Minnie Jones, Organist; J. T. Waterfield, Music Director.

The classes repeatedly with the most present each Sunday were: 1, 4, 5, 7, 8 and 10.

Number of persons present on the average: 129, 144, 77, 109, 131, 94 and 111.

Sunday School Literature monies paid out: $20.60, Sexton; $9.50, J. E. Munden for Coal on 1/27/29, $3.50; Missionary, $4.66; Blackboard purchase, $2; Add White for piano, $25; Annie Etheridge for Delco (battery for lights), $25.

The author also wants to acquaint those reading this with some additional information obtained from Methodist Church records dating back to 1888. Sometimes people searching for information relating to their "family tree" need to know when a person, usually a young child, was baptized. Perhaps this listing may prove helpful regarding inquiries in the years to come. BAPTISMAL RECORDS.

The list of 94 babies born during just four years average out to almost 25 little ones born each year. Unfortunately infant mortality was very high so many probably did not live to see their first birthday.

The following list is the names of Methodist Church members listed on the rolls in 1898. Quite an impressive list it is! Then, as nowadays, some members probably were "no shows", but undoubtedly the church was full more often than now. Whenever there is ( ) the married name, if known, appears.

It is interesting how church leaders expressed the business of the church. It is very difficult now for us to really understand the meaning behind their language. Here is an early penciled notation in a record book: "At a church conference held at Knotts Island M.E. Church held Jan 20=1900 at Divine services the church roll was called and the following committee was appointed to wait on the following R J Bonney W F Ansell Gary Perkins George Perkins J B Watertield Anderson Williams Caleb C Bowden. The following drafted C B Ansell J W Capps Walter J Jones Aseneth Kelly Lydia P Morris C R Wade. No futher business conference closed. J. W. Nichelson, P.C. David jones Secty"

An even more interesting notation found was the manner in which unacceptable behavior was looked upon the Methodist Church of 1902. The penciled rendering read thusly: "At a church conference held at Knotts Island M.E. Church on Sunday Jan 18=1902 and the following names wer reported for walking Desorderly. Lenard Waterfield Walter L Bowden C r Wade Walter J Waterfield Walker E Smsith J H Smith J H Watertield Jas Williams Henry Williams. And the following committee were appointed to wait on the same Wm A Cooper Robt Williams Wilson Cooper J M Jones F Bonney Jr in Norfolk then this conference ordered a Recess bunch on the church aiter which the conference closed. David Jones Secty.”

In the really, really "old days" church members were actually excomrnunicated from the church for unacceptable behavior in the community. The times they have changed! And it is for the good since none of us who live in our beautiful Island community are very perfect!

Adell’s diary repeatedly mentions the name of Pastor Henry Harrell who ate many meals at their house. One of his papers, left behind in an old church record, documented church business at the four churches he was pastor to (Charity, Bethel, Knotts Island and Beech Grove). His observations were no doubt written to his superiors, say in part: "The four Sunday Schools, possibly with one exception, have done good work. In many ways progress has been noted.

The two women’s missionary societies have united with the Ladies Aid of their respective Church. Three societies have a very promising outlook.

The revivals have been held during the quarter. The churches were revived. The revival at Beech Grove was deferred because of the physical disability of the pastor …. The following have been received on profession of faith at KNOTTS ISLAND:

Christine Elizabeth Fentress Marjore Ellen Waterman Lucile Virginia Grimstead Ellen Page Jones Fanny Bell Jones Agnes Hope Ansell Mardell Katherine Jones Harold Oliver Capps Elizabeth Madge Williams Irma Virginia Watertield Beulah Frances Grimstead Edna Lousie White Virginia Dare White Elma Waterfield Lucy Alma Berry Doroth Williams Edith White Janita Bowden Doris Waterfield

We have come to the close of the year conscious of having left undone much which should have been done. Our pastoral work has been very limited. Our preaching has been poor. Yet our people have been loyal-with a minor exception, to their pastor and to their church.

We count it a privilege to serve them, and our hearts rise in gratitude to God because then we are counted worthy to serve even while much incapacitated.

We expect to report all collections in full. Respectfirlly submitted. H. A. Harrell"

NOTE: Preacher Harrell had been injuried severely in his leg when he accidentally shot himself He went out in the dark to investigate after hearing a noise in his henhouse (so the story goes). Somehow he tripped; his gun went off; and for the remainder of his life walked with a painfully bad limp.

And finally, a complete list of all the known PASTORS who have served the Knotts Island United Methodist Church since 1811. Methodist Pastors