Quaker Corner: Westfield Monthly Meeting

Westfield Meeting

From Old Westfield Meeting of Friends

The following history of Westfield Monthly Meeting was compiled by Robert M. Hill ([email protected]) from various sources. Photos were taken in 1996 by Bob's father, Hershel M. Hill of Suffolk VA, former pastor at Westfield.

The Westfield Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, better known in this area as "Old Westfield", is the oldest church in Surry or Stokes County and probably the oldest religious group in Northwest North Carolina this side of the Moravian settlements of what is now Winston Salem. The Meeting dates back to the 1760's when pioneer Quakers from New Garden (now Guilford College) crossed Quaker Gap of the Sauratown mountains to plant a new community in the valleys of Big Creek and Tom's Creek.

Early Quakers began holding meetings at Westfield by 1772 under the care of New Garden Quarterly Meeting and continued until the monthly meeting was established in 1786. Representatives from New Garden were sent to hold services for them. This is said to have lead to the name, "Westfield." The Quakers at New Garden regarded the work as a mission project and since it was located west of New Garden it was referred to as, "The Western Field." Thus comes the name, "Westfield."

The meeting was officially established November 13, 1786. The Westfield friends would send representatives all the way to New Garden, 67 miles, every month. Bowater Sumner was named the first clerk of the Monthly Meeting.

Quaker records show that between 1801-1822 there were fifty-nine members, including thirty-six families who migrated to Indiana and Ohio and the Monthly Meeting was discontinued in 1832. It was revived again in 1868 when Albert Peele and Isom Cox came from New Garden to Westfield and met on a Sunday morning in the open air with about 150 people. "The people decided from that time to have a Friends Meeting again and made up among themselves to do it." John Y. Hoover began serving as pastor in 1872.

The dates of the erection of the first building is uncertain, but a deed dated 1797 for nine acres of land "including the Westfield Meeting House" seem to indicate that the building was constructed soon after the establishment of the Meeting. Three meetings have served as Meeting Houses for the congregation. The first build in the 1780's decayed before the Civil War. It was rebuild about 1870 and was used until 1885 when a new and more modern building was erected. This building has been remodeled and additions made to it through the years.

The "Old Westfield Friends Meeting" has stood for 200 years as a monument to the faithful foresight of dedicated Quakers. It has weathered the storms of strife, war, and depression, and is a witness to the stability of the Church which Jesus came to establish in the hearts and lives of people.

From Luther N. Byrd, Elon College, NC Feb 20, 1951

Deed records in Surry County and Rowan County show that the earliest settlement of people in the area which later was to center about the Old Westfield Quaker Church was between 1760 and 1770, for there are records of people buying or claiming land in that section between those dates. Since most of the early settlers were Quakers, we may assume that there was some semblance of religious group at or near Westfield before 1770.

Westfield Church was established as an off-spring of the historic New Garden Monthly Meeting at Guilford College, for the church records at New Garden prove that to be a fact. The Quakers at New Garden regarded the church work at Westfield as a sort of mission project in its early years, and since it was located west of Guilford College, it was referred to as "the western field", and thus came the name of Westfield.

The minutes of the New Garden Monthly Meeting for August 29, 1772 state that "Also the Friends near the Mountains request the indulgence of holding meetings on week-days among themselves." The people near the mountains were those at Westfield, so that is proof that there were enough Quakers in the Westfield section prior to 1772 to be interested in holding meetings.

The minutes for New Garden for September, 1772 show that "the committee appointed to visit Friends near the mountains reports that they complied with instructions, …. And its the sense and judgment that they (the Friends near the Mountains) be indulged the privilege of holding such meetings and appoints them the fourth day of he week." These meetings were the first official church gatherings at Westfield. (1772).

The Westfield meeting operated for several years under the guidance and care of the New Garden Monthly Meeting at Guilford College. It was referred to as "the little meeting nigh Tom's Creek" in minutes of the New Garden Meeting for May29, 1773.

The Westfield Quakers expressed themselves in 1779 (during the American Revolution) as opposed to war, which is an ancient Quaker belief.

The church at Westfield was established on a more permanent basis when the Western Quarterly Meeting met at Cane Creek o n November 9,m 1782 and authorized a committee to inspect the Westfield group and report at the next quarterly session. The Westfield Quakers had requested such a preparative meeting in August, 1782. Formal organization of he Westfield Meeting as a preparative body was finally and definitely granted August 14, 1784.

The first recorded minutes of a regular Monthly Meeting at Westfield bare the date of December 23, 1786. Bowater Sumner was appointed first clerk.

The exact date of he first church building at Westfield is not known, but it was probably built soon after the meeting first started, for there is a deed on file in Quaker Archives at Guilford College, dated August 1797 for nine acres "including the Westfield Meeting House." That is proof that there was already a church building there at that date.

I have in my files a hand-written statement from the late Mrs. Effie Ann Hill, who stated that the first church building was build right after the meeting was started, and she states that the first church stood down in the present grave yard and that it was located abut twenty steps west of our father's (Ira Chilton) grave. She writes "when he was put there, his grave was made at the lower side of the East Yard of the church." Mrs. Hill stated that the old church stood on the east side of the road, but in 1939 when they had that big home-coming and celebration at the renovation of the present church, someone located some old rocks just below the present church toward the cemetery (but on the west side of the road along with the present location of Ira W. Chilton's grave, but seems to me that it was not too far down in the cemetery, so it seems likely that the oldest church might have been where those rocks were located to form a square for the old foundation. Ira Chilton died in 1885.

Now, Mrs. Hill also wrote that "the old log walls of he old church was still standing" when services were started again after the Civil War, so evidently that first church was practically gone at that time. Quaker records show that between 1801 and 1822 there were fifty-nine members, including thirty-six families, who migrated to Indiana and Ohio, and the Westfield Monthly Meeting was laid down in 1832. The bulk of the migration began in 1817. The result was that from 1832 until after the Civil War there was no Westfield Monthly Meeting. In April 1860, there was still a meeting house there, for there is a deed on record made by the Trustees of Friends to the trustees of the Westfield community for "a tract of land known as the Westfield Meeting House and graveyard, the same to be known for all time to come as a public burying ground and meeting place for all respectable religious peoples." So the Westfield Quaker property belongs to the community form 1860 to 1872. In 1872 the Trustees of the Friends (Sandy Cook, William H. Pell, and Benjamin F. Davis) paid $125 for the nine acre tract, and it once more became the property of the Friends church, with the provision that it was to be held forever by the Society of Friends.

At this point let us point out the Quarterly Meetings of which Westfield Monthly Meeting has been a part. It was originally founded in 1786 as a member of the Western Quarterly Meeting. It was transferred to the newly organized New Garden Quarterly Meeting in 1787. Within the next few years, Westfield itself branched out and formed new Monthly Meetings at Lost Creek in Tennessee in 1793, at New Hope in Tennessee in 1795, Mount Pleasant and Fruit Hill in Virginia in 1797, at North Providence in 1801, and so in 1803 the Westfield Quarterly Meeting set off. Apparently this Westfield Quarterly Meeting continued until the Westfield Monthly Meeting was discontinued in 1832, but when the Westfield church revived in 1883, it belonged to Deep River Quarterly Meeting. It was transferred to the new Yadkin Valley Quarterly Meeting in 1889 and was again transferred to the new Surry Quarterly Meeting in 1898.

Excerpts from Hinshaw, Volume I Westfield Monthly Meeting

Tom's Creek Meeting, the predecessor of Westfield, was located in Surry County, NC, not far from the Virginia Line. The meeting for worship was organized about 1771; the preparative meeting in 1784. The name was changed to Westfield when the monthly meeting was established, in 1786. Previous to this time, Tom's Creek Preparative Meeting had been attached to New Garden Monthly Meeting.

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