In two of my works on Southern Unionism, Unruly Women (1992), and Long Shadow of the Civil War (2010), I wrote extensively about the effects of the anti-slavery Wesleyan Methodist movement in creating an environment of fierce anti-Confederate sentiment in the Randolph-Montgomery County area of North Carolina during the Civil War. In Montgomery County, several Wesleyan families’ refusal to support the Confederacy tragically resulted in the killing of three Hulin brothers by home guard soldiers.
The Hulins, Moores, and Hurleys became Wesleyans a full decade before the Civil War and were anti-slavery activists. A year before the war erupted, in March 1860, Hiram Hulin, Jesse Hulin, Nelson Hulin (sons of Hiram), William Hurley Sr., William Hurley Jr., and Spencer Moore (son of Valentine Moore) were charged alongside Daniel Wilson, a well-known anti-slavery leader from Guilford County, with circulating “seditious” anti-slavery materials.
Although I relied principally on court records, military records, newspapers, and memoirs to tell the story of Unionism in this region of North Carolina, I found two Wesleyan Methodist publications, Roy S. Nicholson’s Wesleyan Methodism in the South (1933), and Mrs. E.W. Crooks’ Life of Rev. Adam Crooks (1875), crucial to my ability to confirm the religious conversions of the above Montgomery County families.
In the following essay, I draw from both these works. As “in house” publications, they reflect the perspective of the Wesleyan Movement, yet, in combination with primary sources, they leave no doubt of the religious ideology that led the Hulins, Moores, Hurleys, and others to oppose slavery and the Confederate Cause.
Vikki Bynum, Moderator
Southerners Against Slavery: Wesleyan Methodists in Montgomery County, North Carolina
By Vikki Bynum
The man most responsible for bringing Wesleyan Methodism to the Randolph/Montgomery County area of North Carolina was Rev. Adam Crooks, who was originally from Leesville, Carroll County, Ohio, where he was born in 1824. According to Crooks’ biographer, his wife Elizabeth Willits Crooks, in 1841 he joined those northern Methodists who split from the Methodist Episcopal Church over slavery. The following year, in December 1842, the splinter group produced a newspaper, the True Wesleyan, which heralded the establishment of Wesleyan Methodism in the United States. These Wesleyans claimed to embody the doctrinal standards of early Methodism as established under the guidance of Rev. John Wesley. They opposed worldly habits such as the use of whiskey and tobacco and ostentatious dress and adornment. Most important to the history of Montgomery County, they opposed the ownership of human beings by other human beings.
Opposition to slavery, and specifically to the degrading and violent means by which it was maintained, was not limited to Methodists of the North. In 1847, during its Allegheny Conference in Mesopotamia, Ohio, the Wesleyan Church received an urgent letter from “Free Methodists” of Guilford County, North Carolina, who requested the services of a Wesleyan preacher. In this old Quaker stronghold of the South, anti-slavery principles had never completely died. “There is much more anti-slavery sentiment in this part of North Carolina than I had supposed,” Crooks later observed, “owing, in great measure, to the influence of the Society of Friends.” During his stay in North Carolina, he was amused to be “taken for a Quaker, go wherever I will,” even once after preaching in a Methodist Episcopal house. Crooks concluded that this assumption reflected the antislavery doctrine he preached and the “plain coat” that he wore.
The call from North Carolina had great appeal to Crooks. By age twenty, he had become a Wesleyan exhorter who preached against the evils of slavery. In August 1845, he joined the Allegheny Conference as a junior preacher, and received a six-week assignment to the Erie circuit, where he ministered to a small Erie City church comprised of many fugitive slaves. Now, he agreed to travel to North Carolina. With the sectional crisis over slavery growing fiercer by the day, it took a great deal of courage to enter the slaveholding South with the express purpose of preaching against slavery. In preparation for his mission he was ordained an Elder.
Crooks encountered many Methodists in North Carolina who resented being forced to remain with the Methodist Episcopal Church in the wake of its national division into pro- and anti-slavery denominations. Finding it ”impracticable” to join the anti-slavery Northern Division of the church, they formed a third division, the “Free Methodist Church.” According to Crooks, “up to this time, they had no knowledge of the existence of the Wesleyan Methodist connection.” Once they learned of the Wesleyan persuasion, he said, they immediately sent for preachers, convened, and adopted the Wesleyan principles as their own.
Pro-slavery North Carolinians labeled Crooks a “nigger-thief,” an abolitionist, and an advocate of racial amalgamation (race mixing). Nevertheless, he preached before large and small congregations and regularly denounced slavery in the presence of slaveholders. In October, 1847, Crooks presided over the founding of Freedom’s Hill Church, located in the old Snow Camp community of present-day Alamance County, N.C., and the first Wesleyan Methodist Church in the South.
In 1850, despite violent opposition to Wesleyan preachers by pro-slavery mobs, Crooks prepared to preach in Montgomery County at the invitation of members of Lane’s Chapel and Lovejoy Chapel. Twice, he was warned by letter to cancel those plans. The first letter, signed by “Many Citizens” from Montgomery and neighboring Stanly Counties, accused Crooks of
preying upon the minds of the weak and innocent, inducing them to believe that slave-holding is not only an oppression to the slaves, but to all those who do not hold slaves. The slaves hereabout are in much better condition than their masters or other citizens. Your doctrine, if carried out, would bring down vengeance upon the heads of your followers by amalgamation and otherwise.
Crooks was accused of being “worse than a traitor,” and threatened with expulsion if he dared to appear in Lane’s Chapel: “we are in hopes you will return from whence you came, or you will be dealt with according to the dictates of our consciences.”
A second letter from Montgomery County, dated 27 December 1850 and signed by eleven people, demanded again that Crooks leave the state. Crooks did not answer the letter, but traveled to Montgomery County as planned, where he stayed at the home of Valentine Moore and prepared, in February 1851, to preach at Lovejoy Chapel, located about a mile from Moore’s home.
A mob headed by a local justice of the peace and slaveholder met Crooks at the door of Lovejoy Chapel. Alluding to the Methodists’ national schism over slavery, the j.p. accused Crooks of “making interruptions in families, neighborhoods, and Churches” by preaching against slavery. He claimed that Crooks was “causing us to abuse our servants,” i.e. slaves, by telling them they deserved to be free, which “makes them unruly; so that they have to be abused.” Again, Crooks was ordered to leave the county.
Several other local slaveholders challenged Crooks as well. “Brother Crooks did you not preach to servants not to obey their masters?” Crooks answered that he had not, but his accuser insisted that he had. Hiram Hulin then interceded on Crooks’ behalf. “Don’t you interrupt the man,” he told the slaveholder, who responded by shaking his fist and stamping the floor, declaring that he was on his own “premises.” Hiram’s brother, Orrin Hulin, then called for order, reminding the men that they had entered the chapel to worship God.
Those opposed to Crooks’ right to preach moved to expel him from the chapel. They declared Crooks a traitor, no better than Aaron Burr, sent to Montgomery County by anti-slavery radicals such as Daniel Wilson of Guilford County. Likewise, Orrin Hulin was condemned for having written a letter to the True Wesleyan that described a Montgomery County slaveholder’s brutal torture and whipping of slave.
Then, the anti-Crooks faction rose to forcibly remove Crooks from Lovejoy Chapel, at which point Orrin Hulin cried out,
Men, take notice of who takes hold of that man by violence.
As the mob approached Crooks, William Hurley stepped before it and called out,
But stop, don’t you run over me. What are you going to do with the preacher?
According to author Elizabeth Crooks, chaos followed, as Crooks was
led or rather dragged from the pulpit into the yard. . . . Some are rushing for their horses, others are screaming, and still others prostrated, motionless and speechless.
Mrs. Crooks further described how several men forced Crooks into a buggy as Orrin Hulin once again called on Crooks’ supporters to “take notice of who forces that man into that buggy.” Several of Crooks’ supporters followed the buggy on foot to the home of one of the slaveholders. There, over dinner, pro- and anti-slavery factions, including Crooks, argued over slavery. Sheriff Aaron Sanders, a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church and part of the mob that accosted Crooks, was present. So also was William Hurley, Crooks’ defender, who proclaimed himself “ever opposed” to slavery.
“Well, if you believe slavery to be wrong, you need not hold them; it does not hurt you,” a slaveholder challenged.
Hurley answered, not as an abolitionist, but as a citizen who defended his right to belong to an anti-slavery church:
Well, but for me to support a thing I do not believe in would not be right. And you can have your privileges and let us have ours.
When asked if his church, which refused membership to slaveholders, might yet receive a slave, Hurley said “yes”, provided the slave was a Christian. Those words provoked this angry response from an unnamed slaveholder:
What!—receive a nigger and not a white man? That is a grand insult depriving us of our rights.
“Not at all,” maintained Hurley. “We do not say that you shall not hold slaves; all we want is to keep clear of supporting it.”
“Well, if that is your principle you ought to leave the state,” advised the same man, advice to which Hurley strenuously objected:
I was born and raised here—pay for my privileges under the law, and it is a hard case if I am to be deprived of them.
As the argument heated up, another slaveholder advised the mob to “serve him [Hurley] as we do Crooks.” But William Hurley appeared to be forgotten after four magistrates ordered Sheriff Sanders to deliver Adam Crooks to the jail.
After being locked up, Crooks was lectured by his captors on the need to abandon his plan to preach in Montgomery County. Exhibiting the common social superiority that slaveholders felt toward nonslaveholders, they assured Crooks that the folks who had invited him to speak (members from the Moore, Hulin, and Hurley families) were the “very dregs of the county,” while “those who are against you,” (slaveholders), “are the best men of the county.”
Finally and reluctantly, Adam Crooks agreed to leave Montgomery County and was accordingly released from jail. He then returned to the home of Valentine Moore to say his goodbyes. While there, he reported, Valentine’s daughter Caroline (who would soon marry Hiram Hulin’s son, Jesse) announced to Crooks that she was leaving the Methodist Episcopal Church and joining with the Wesleyans.
Slaveholders had prevented Adam Crooks from preaching in their county, but they had failed to prevent the successful birth of Wesleyan Methodism in their community. Battle lines would be redrawn during the Civil War, in a brutal inner war that would pit the same Sheriff Aaron Sanders against the same community of dissenters.
For more on Adam Crooks and Southern Wesleyan Methodism, see:
- Roy S. Nicholson, Wesleyan Methodism in the South (Syracuse, NY: Wesleyan Methodist Publishing House, 1933).
- Mrs. E.W. Crooks, Life of Rev. Adam Crooks, A.M. (Syracuse, NY: Wesleyan Methodist Publishing House, 1875). A copy of this book is owned by the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and may be accessed online at UNC’s Documenting the American South. http://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/crooks/crooks.html.
- An independent film company has recently produced the story of Adam Crooks. See The Courageous Love, Rubacam Productions, http://www.thecourageouslove.com/home/About.html