Fahan Presbyterian Church

Jesus is Lord - Romans 10: 9

Scots-Irish in the Hills of Tennessee

See pages 146 to 151 in this excelent book which you will need to purchase.

ScotsIrish in the Hills of Tennessee

This is the absorbing story about a race of people who created a civilisation in a wilderness and helped lay the solid foundations for what today is the greatest nation on earth. The Scots-Irish Presbyterians who settled in the American frontier lands during the 18th century were a unique breed of people with an independent spirit which, boldly challenged the arbitrary powers of monarchs and' established church prelates. After making the hazardous journey across the Atlantic in simple wooden ships these brave emigrant families landed at ports in Pennsylvania, Delaware, South Carolina and New York and they were in the forefront of the push west to territories that hitherto had been only inhabited by the native Indian tribes. A determination to carve out for themselves a lifestyle which would take account of their dissenting Calvinistic faith and the desire to break completely from the shackles of autocracy experienced in Ireland/Scotland kept these families going. The battles with the British forces, the native Indian tribes and the elements in a climate that had its extremes, took a terrible toll on men, women and children, but with a doggedness and a steely character inherent in their culture, the brave Scots-Irish pioneers won through - initially to the Appalachian states of the Carolinas, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Georgia, and eventually to points west and south, such as Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, Texas, Oregon and Nebraska. This book records for posterity the daring exploits of a people who tamed the frontier, It is a story that needs to be told, retold and told over and over again so that the light of democracy and freedom can shine brightly in the complex world in which we live. These were indeed a people undeterred - the Ulster-Scots who moved to America in the 18th century. Their exploits deserve our recognition. CHURCH IN THE WILD WOOD

Washington Presbyterian Church, located 10 miles north east of Knoxville, was founded in the summer of 1802 by Scots-Irish settlers who had moved into Knox County from Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky. They settled in what was then known as "Grassy Valley" and the Rev. Samuel Carrick helped them set up the congregation.

The first minister was the Rev. Isaac Anderson, grandson of Isaac Anderson who was born in Co. Down in 1730 and who arrived in Knox County in 1801 with his son William, from Rockbridge County, Vir­ginia.

William Anderson had five sons - the Rev. Isaac; Robert, a judge; Samuel and William, both lawyers and James, a colonel in the militia. Rev. Isaac Anderson founded Maryville College. The Andersons were the descendants of Samuel Shannon, who fought at the Siege of Lon­donderry in 1688-89 on behalf of the Williamite forces and moved to America early in the 18th century. His daughter, Mary, married James McCampbell in Virginia and the McCampbells moved with the Andersons and Smiths to Grassy Valley. The families were to become interwoven by marriage.

Washington, named after General George Washington, became the church of many Knoxville valley settlers and even though another con­gregation was formed nearby at Spring Place in 1842, it continued to prosper.

Later in 1886 in the same area the Shannondale Presbyterian Church came into existence and today all three congregations still co-exist.

The Calvinistic fervour in this area was complemented by an influx of French-Swiss Brethren and Huguenot Protestants in the mid-19th century and some of these families joined the Washington, Spring Place and Shannondale congregations.


Few Scots-Irish families can match the illustrious contribution towards the opening up of the American frontier made by the Rheas, starting from the Rev. Joseph Rhea who arrived in Philadelphia from Donegal in Ireland in 1769. The Rheas were descended from the Campbell clan

in lowland Scotland and the family line was started by a Matthew Campbell who moved to Fahan in East Donegal around 1665 after be­ing involved in an abortive rebellion against the government of King Charles II.

On arrival in Ulster Campbell changed his name to Rhea (pronounced Ray) and it is known that two of his sons settled in Belfast and another at Kennecalley near St. Johnston in East Donegal. Matthew Campbell Rhea took a prominant part in the Siege of Londonderry in 1688-89 when the Roman Catholic forces of James II laid siege on the Protes­tant residents of the city.

The Rheas were a strong Presbyterian family and Joseph, a grandson of Matthew, rose to the ministry; graduating^t the aglTof 27^with an MA degree at the University of Glasgow in 1742 and being ordained by the Presbytery of Londonderry. He first preached at the little church at Barracranaugh or Bun Cranaugh (now Buncrana) near the shores of Lough Foyle and for 20 years from 1749 to 1769 was the faithful pastor of Fahan and Inch Presbyterian Church on the Innishowen Peninsula. Joseph Rhea was a scholarly man, well versed in philosophy, theol­ogy and the Hebrew and Latin languages, and he was spoken off as one of the most eminent clerics in the north of Ireland, and later in the fron­tier lands of America. Large in stature, he was six feet in height, with a cheerful disposition, full of Irish jokes; pleasant in manner and kind and charitable to a fault. He had been known to take off his shirt and give it to the needy.

He resigned his post at Fahan and Inch on August 16, 1769 after a disagreement over his annual salary of £24. His resignation to the con­gregation read:

"As I received the congregation of Fahan from the Presbytery of Londonderry, I have labored in the work of the ministry above twenty years in that place and as the congregation has fallen into very long areas and has been very deficient in the original promise to me which was 24 pounds yearly I am unable to sub­sist any longer among them and I do hereby demit my charge of them and deliver them into the hand of them from whom I re­ceived them.

Subscribed this 16th August, 1769. JOSEPH REA

P.S. -1 have only this further to request of the Presbytery that they will see justice done me in that congregation in my ab­sence."

On September, 1769 he sailed from Londonderry in Lough Foyle to America with his wife Elizabeth Mcllwaine and seven children - John, Matthew, Margaret, William, Joseph, Elizabeth and Samuel. His wife Elizabeth Mcllwaine came from Lisfannin in Co. Donegal and another son James was born in America.

Joseph Rhea preached at Piney Creek near Taneytown in Maryland fofTour years on an annual salaryof £112, which then equalled the sum of 560 dollars. He took a call to the Appalachian frontier in 1775 and it is believed he became only the second Presbyterian cleric to minister in the region we know of today as Tennessee.

The Rev. Charles Cummings, another minister of Scots-Irish descent, was the first and it was at the Holston River settlement in North Caro­lina (today North-East Tennessee) that he was joined by Rhea, who had left his family behind in Maryland to witness for Christ on the frontier. During his time on the Holston, Rhea joined up as a chaplain to the patriot troops of Colonel William Christian (another of Ulster-Scots tradition) for a four-week engagement against the Cherokee Indians on the Little Tennessee River.

It was said that Rhea, a gifted preacher and by then a man of 60, embraced every opportunity of preaching to the settlers in their wilder­ness homes and forts, and to the soldiers during his short time with them. Rhea, accompanied by his eldest son John, purchased lands at Beaver Creek in 1777 and he decided that he must return to Maryland to prepare the other members of the family for the wagon train trek to the new lands on the frontier. Sadly, after selling his property in Mary­land, Joseph Rhea took ill with pneumonia and died, aged 62. He was buried in Piney Creek cemetery, Maryland.

A translation of a letter (in Latin) written by the Rev. Joseph Rhea to his son John on April 19,1777 not only highlighted the dangers for the settlers on the frontier, but carried a prophetic message only five months from his death.

"I am well in body, but anxious in mind.  The people of the Holston are in distress again on account of the savages. I hear

that those in the fortifications below the hills are very numer­ous. I think that they will not have a spring harvest; the fate of them will be that they will not be able to live on that section. I sold my farm and I move not later than 5th June. If the Holston people do not about that time send two wagons for my family I shall, God willing, conduct them myself. I have now no place in which to put my family. I do not dispair, but I now think I was too hasty in selling my farm. Nothing in this world is done in vain, nothing accidentally, but all things by the omnipotent power. I beg you to write me; counsel and care for your brother Matthew. Mother and all the others at home are very well. I wrote you by Captain Thompson. ThisTetter goes in the care of Captain Boyer, of Virginia, and from ihe home of Chiliaribi McAlister and from the town of that name. May you both live mindful of the future and conduct yourselves in a proper man­ner (as is becoming). So shun women and wine. You know that these have brought ruin to very many. Live soberly, secure the love of all men especially of the leader. I hope that God will guide me. I have made a mistake in selling my farm too hastily, but I trust that the Ruler of the world will bring me to a good end. That God will be with you and be a protection to you is the prayer of your most loving father".

Joseph Rhea's widow Elizabeth, her eldest son John and the rest of the family carried out his wish of removing to the Holston and after a hazardous six-week journey they reached their new home in the middle of a snowstorm in February, 1778.

The Rheas were followed to the Holston and Watauga regions of North Carolina by other Scots-Irish settlers who had been members of Joseph Rhea's congregation at Piney Creek. They were joined by friends from Virginia, and together they formed a settlement at the Holston Fork and a church called New Bethel, where they were ministered to by a contemporary of Joseph Rhea, the Rev. Samuel Doak. Among the names of the families who moved were Allison, Anderson. Breden. Hodges, Dysart, McAllister, McCorkle and Lynn.

The 2.000-acre Rhea farm on the Holston near what is now the town of Blountville was the scene of some of the earliest religious services in Tennessee. Joseph Rhea and Samuel Doak preached from a pulpit stone on the farm and portions of the old rock remain to this day. The large field behind the Rhea house served as training grounds for the militia before the Revolutionary War and both Presidents Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnson were frequent guests of the family. The farm was also used by the Confederate forces during the Civil War. Of the direct descendants of the Rev. Joseph Rhea, 21 became ministers of the gos­pel - Presbyterians, with a single exception and 54 were soldiers in the Confederate Army during the Civil War from 1861-65.

John Rhea born in the parish of Langhorn near Londonderry in 1753, was like his father a leader in his frontier community and he served with the patriot army at the Battle of Kings Mountain and Brandywine. Tie was clerkfofThe county court of Sullivan Couhtyrwhentt became part of the ill-fated state of Franklin and was later in North Carolina; was a member of the House of Commons of North Carolina; a delegate from Sullivan County to the constitional convention of Tennessee in 1796; attorney general of Greene County, Tennessee; a member of the American Congress for 18 years and a United States commissioner in the treaty talks with the Choctaw Indians in 1816. He was a graduate of Princeton and after studying law was admitted to the bar in 1789. He was a leading educationalist in Tennessee and served for many years as trustee on the state's leading colleges - Greeneville, Washington and East Tennessee.

John Rhea was a strict Calvinist and had planned to become a Pres­byterian minister. He was taken on trials by the Hanover Presbytery in Tennessee, but was never licensed or ordained. As a United States Con­gressman in 1812 he presented a petition from Christian denomina­tions in the western part of the United States against the mail service being operated on a Sunday. The Government ruled that the daily trans­portation of the mails was a public necessity. Rhea, who never mar­ried, was a Democrat of the Thomas Jefferson school and a staunch friend of Andrew Jackson. In 1823 he retired from politics and died in Sullivan County in 1832. He is buried in Blountville, one of the oldest towns in Tennessee, a place where Scots-Irish families like the Rheas, Andersons, Maxwells, Rutledges and Tiptons settled.

It is known that John Rhea returned to Ireland in 1785 and brought to America, landing at New Castle, Delaware, a relative Mrs Elizabeth Dysart Breden, the widow of John Breden (Braden). She had eight children and three of her daughters married three of John Rhea's brothers and a fourth daughter married a cousin. Congressman or "Old John" Rhea, as he was often referred to, acquired large tracts of land in Tennessee and he became a very wealthy man for his times. He was partial to white horses and his journeys to Washington were always on a trusted steed, of that colour.

John's brother Matthew, born in Co.Donegal in 1755, was a lieuten­ant in the sixth Virginia Regiment of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War and was at the battle of Guildford Courthouse in North Carolina. He was presented with a sword by General Nathaniel Green for gallantry in that battle. The sword was lost in battle by Lieu­tenant Matthew Rhea, great grandson of Rev. Joseph Rhea during the American Civil War7Matthev7Seh's two sons JosepITM. and Robert P. Rhea were also soldiers of distinction. Both fought in the war of 1812 and were taken captive at Quebec in Canada. Robert P. was a school teacher in Virginia and one of his pupils was General "Stonewall" Jackson, who was of Ulster stock from the Birches in Co. Armagh.

Matthew Rhea (1795-1870), son of Matthew Sen. and grandson of Rev. Joseph Rhea, published in 1832 the first map of Tennessee, based on actual land surveys. This was considered a major contribution to early life in Tennessee. Matthew was married to Mary Looney, of a Scots-Irish pioneer family from Sullivan County. The couple lived in Maury County and in Middle Tennessee and Fayette County in Western Tennessee. They had 13 children.

Hill McAlister, the Governor of Tennessee in 1933-37, was a de­scendant from the Rhea-Breden-Dysart families and many other Tennessean luminaries of the 19th and 20th centuries orginated from this illustrious Scots-Irish line.

* Fahan and Inch Presbyterian Churches in Co. Donegal today belong to the Derry and Strabane Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Fahan and Inch are only a short distance from Londonderry, Northern Ireland's second city.


The Camp meeting was a unique phenomenon of religion in the Ap­palachian states almost 200 years ago. Started in Kentucky around 1800, the camp meetings became a vehicle of civilisation, conversion, and social interaction in what was seen as "a coarse, Godless life" in the American wilderness and in Tennessee they became very popular.