|"The Early Years of the
Union Church Presbyterian Church"
Prepared by George T. Bates, in cooperation with Miss Lottie Warren, for the observance
of the 150th Anniversary Celebration of the Union Church Presbyterian Church.
This was delivered by George Bates at the Sesquicentennial, November 12, 1967.
In 1798, Manuel Gayoso, Spanish governor of the Mississippi Province, officially transferred ownership of this
area to Andrew Ellicott, representative of the government of the young United States. The flags of France,
England and Spain had flown over this land. Now, under the protection of the young republic, free trade on the
Mississippi River was established and the Natchez Trace was developed as the major land route to the area.
Settlers from Appalachia and the Western Seaboard were able to pour into the southern Mississippi Valley as
never before, seeking for their families, a new home and a better life.
In 1802, the first four families of the Scottish settlers from North and South Carolina began arriving in
Claiborne County. Making the dangerous journey from Nashville, down the Natchez Trace, they came to
Bruinsburg, a village of the early days, located on the Mississippi above Rodney. These families brought with
them their servants, furnishings and livestock.
For two years, they stayed near Bruinsburg, making crops, for most of their supplies which they had brought
with them from the East had been used. In 1804, they moved east into a more hilly region which reminded
them of their native Scotland. They called this community along the road from Natchez to Brookhaven,
Ebenezer. Very soon, other followed and a large country neighborhood began to form. For the first few years,
they managed for themselves, having neither a doctor, pastor or teacher. The settlement continued to expand
to the east and very soon they reached the site of the present village of Union Church. Neil Buie, his brother
and son, both of whom were named Gilbert, made the first camp about two miles west of here after cutting
their way through the cane brakes. The Buie's opened much land near the present G. S. Torrey house.
Others came, and the community grew rapidly. John Watson and his wife, Jane Smylie, built the first house
where the village now stands. Two rooms of this log structure still exist in the home of Mary Gillis Green. The
people continued building homes on the road east of Union Church until there was another large settlement
Among these families of Scottish Presbyterians were three or four families of Methodists. These people,
connected to the Presbyterians through the marriage of their children, were too few in number to support a
church of their denomination, so they worshipped with the Presbyterians for many years, hence, the name
Union Church. Strong ties still exist between the two denominations in this community.
During the nineteen years of Spanish rule, the Roman Catholic Church was the official church and other
denominations were banned. In 1799, shortly after the transfer of authority to the United States, the Rev.
Joseph Bullen became the first Presbyterian minister to spread God's word in Mississippi. Sponsored by the
Presbyterian Board of New York, Rev. Bullen was sent as a missionary to the Chickasaw Nation in the
northern part of the state. He and his son, John, made the long overland journey, taking turns riding the one
horse which they owned.
He worked among the Chickasaws for a year with good success, and then returned to Vermont where he had
previously preached for 20 years. After gathering his family, Joseph Bullen again came south, this time to the
neighborhood near Cannonsburg, where he established Bethel Church in 1804, the first Presbyterian Church
in the territory, and a place of worship for 22 years.
He organized a second church at Bayou Pierre in 1807, and in 1810, this church was founded by Rev. Bullen.
All of these churches were reorganized when the Mississippi Presbytery was formed 150 years ago in 1817.
Joseph Bullen, also, taught school and had a small farm near his home at Bethel. Both he and his wife are
buried in the Bethel Cemetery. The Rev. Bullen was born in Massachusetts and educated at Yale University.
His wife, Hannah Morse, was a third cousin of Samuel Morse, inventor of the telegraph. Her twin sister,
Susannah, married Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin.
To Rev. Bullen, and others like him, we owe a great debt. Men like these, with their pioneering spirit and
deep sense of religious conviction were the ones who made it possible for us to worship here today.
The first permanent pastor of this church was the Rev. William Montgomery. Born of Scottish parents in
Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, he moved to North Carolina with his family early in life. He was an excellent
scholar and received a thorough education at Chapel Hill. Rev. Montgomery continued his study of Lation till
the end of his life and often spoke of his friend, "Horace." He was licensed to preach and was ordained in
North Carolina. Described as a handsome, quiet man, he loved young people. In the year 1800, the Synod of
South Carolina selected him to go with James Hall and James Bowman as missionaries to the Mississippi
Territory. They arrived in December of 1800 and left in 1801. Mr. Montgomery then returned to Georgia where
he was pastor of the Lexington church. During this time, he was married to a Miss Lane, niece of General
Joseph Lane, a candidate for the Vice Presidency of the United States. [According to a descendant of Rev.
Montgomery's, Elizabeth Lane Montgomery was actually the aunt of General Joseph Lane, rather than his
In the following years, a great awakening took place among the people of Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia,
which caused much upheaval in the Presbyterian churches of that area. This awakening, which was of an
emotional nature, was called the "jerks."
Not finding this to his liking, Mr. Montgomery returned to Mississippi in 1810, accepting the Presidency of
Jefferson College at Washington. He shortly resigned from this position to become pastor of the church at
Pine Ridge, then called Salem.
One day in Natchez, he met Mr. Dougald Torrey of Ebenezer. They became friends and Mr. Torrey invited him
to come out to Ebenezer and Union Church to hold services, which he did. He later accepted calls from both
churches and began preaching for them in 1811. He moved to Ebenezer where he lived on a farm bought with
the help of his friend, Mr. Torrey.
For 37 years, he preached at these two churches for a salary of $100 per year. Rain or cold never stopped
him or his congregation. He missed only two appointments here, one at the death of his wife, and one at the
death of his daughter.
When he was 80 years old, he rode his horse here to preach, in the rain. He developed pneumonia and died.
He was buried beside his wife at the old Darden-Torrey Cemetery of Ebenezer. His life was compared to a
spring: regardless of the weather, the spring never ran dry.
The Rev. Angus McCallum, born in Robeson County, North Carolina in 1801, was the second pastor.
Graduated from Union Seminary in 1830, he was ordained and preached his first sermon in Ashpole Church in
North Carolina. He preached in Moore County until 1837, when he went as an evangelist to Mississippi. In
1849, he accepted a call to this church and remained its minister until 1855, when he resumed his
evangelistic work. In 1857, he organized the Brookhaven church.
On a visit to his old home in North Carolina, he preached his last sermon in the same old church, Ashpole,
where he began his ministry. He is buried with his wife and family here at Union Church.
John H. Smylie, a native of New York, was the third pastor from 1856 to 1862. Death ended his service and he
is also buried in this cemetery with others of his family beneath the beautiful crepemyrtle trees which are
over 100 years old.
Rev. Thomas H. Cleland was next to serve here. After a short tenure, he went from here to another church.
For the next six years, the Rev. Samuel Montgomery, son of the first pastor, ministered to this congregation.
He was much loved, but because of ill health caused by yellow fever while preaching in New Orleans, he
resigned and went to live with his son.
During his ministry, a great revival was held in which many were brought into the church.
The early days of the church were full of interesting events which make them wonderful times to hear about.
Each year, camp meeting was held on the grounds about the church for at least ten days. People came from
near and far to worship and visit with one another.
Each time Communion was to be served, the congregation was assembled on the Friday night beforehand.
Members were examined by the minister and Elders, and those found worthy of receiving Communion were
given lead tokens made by Matthew Smylie. On Sunday morning, they would gather about tables near the
pulpit and present their tokens to receive Communion.
At a very early date in Rev. William Montgomery's pastorate, the servants of all the people came on Sunday
afternoon and attended services in the same church, being received by profession and baptism. The Elders
always attended these services, and the singing was said to have been beautiful. The names of the servants
were on the church rolls up to and during the Civil War. It was by their own request that they formed their
own church, Hickory Block, which still carries on their work.
The Sunday School did not begin till some years after organization of the church. Mr. S. D. McCallum was the
most faithful of Superintendents until the illness which caused his death.
This church has had three buildings since its beginning. The first one was a small log house located two or
three miles from here on the property of the Buies, who were charter members. Members of the following
families completed the list of charter members: Baker, Brown, McDougald, Patterson, Smith and Smylie. The
first Elders were Angus Patterson and Neil Buie.
An old Irishman living in the neighborhood, having no family, deeded his property of nearly 100 acres to the
church, of which he was a member. The second building was erected on this property, and used until it
became too small. A hall over its main sanctuary was rented to the Masons, the Odd Fellows, and The Sons
When the church outgrew the second building, a third one was built, in 1852. It is this building, 111 years old,
which we still use.
So these were the early years of the Union Church Presbyterian Church, exciting years of a new people in a
new country. Banded together, they pushed back the wilderness and brought God's word to a new land. We
owe them much.