AUTHOR: Linda H. Barnette (edited and vetted by Cheri Todd Molter)
I had heard from my grandmother, Blanche Dwiggins Smith, that her great-great-grandfather, Daniel Dwiggins, was a circuit-riding Methodist preacher in the early to mid-1800s, so you can imagine my excitement when I recently found the following entry in the 1850 census for him: “Daniel Dwiggins, 71, clergyman, Methodist E.” In the early days, the Methodist church was known as the Methodist Episcopal Church, having derived part of its name from the Anglican Church of England.
Methodism can be traced to the beliefs of John Wesley, an Anglican preacher who, with his brother Charles, came to America to preach the gospel in the mid-1700s. Eventually their followers became known as Wesleyans. John ordained Francis Asbury, a preacher from England who came to America and settled in Halifax, North Carolina. His job was to recruit itinerant preachers, called circuit-riders, to go from place to place to spread the gospel. They preached to small and large groups wherever they could find listening ears, often in people’s homes, where the circuit-riders might be invited to share a meal and spend the night.
This background information helps to explain Daniel’s lifestyle as a preacher. During the years of his ministry, he traveled on horseback and tried to bring souls to Jesus right here in the Piedmont. He was also instrumental in founding what is now known as Center United Methodist Church. In 1833, after a meeting at a neighbor’s home, John Smith gave 2 acres of land by a deed to Daniel Dwiggins, Daniel’s son Ashley, and several other local men, for the purpose of building a church. At first, they constructed a wooden arbor where people could worship outside. Later, they built a church. Today there is a newer building beside the arbor (listed in the National Register of Historic Places) and a cemetery across the road where most of my Dwiggins ancestors are buried.
When Daniel was not preaching, he was a farmer whose land was part of the original Daniel Boone Granville land grant, which Daniel sold earlier to his nephew John Boone. The original deeds, dated 1803, were in the possession of my grandmother, who eventually gave them to the library here for safekeeping. In any case, Daniel had a farm, and according to the slave schedules, enslaved over a dozen individuals. He and his wife, Ursula Crews Dwiggins, had 5 children and are buried in the Dwiggins Family Cemetery, which was part of his original property. Daniel’s son, Ashley, inherited the homeplace. Ashley was my third great-grandfather and born in 1804. When the Civil War began, two of Ashley’s sons—Daniel and my great-grandfather, James Patterson Dwiggins, joined the Confederate Army. On July 15, 1862, the brothers mustered into Company H of the N. C. 5th Cavalry. Both survived, but Daniel was never the same after the war.
I have never understood how people could, if they were believers, condone slavery and participate in it.
Sources: Resource UMC: A Brief History of the People of the Methodist Church (no author listed); Center United Methodist Church: Compiled Information from the Martin-Wa. (History Room of the Davie County Public Library, Mocksville, North Carolina).