The Rev. Hugh McAden of Pennsylvania is believed to have been the first Presbyterian minister to visit Wayne and Duplin Counties. On a missionary journey to North Carolina in 1756, he preached at several places in Bladen, New Hanover and Cumberland. In his journal he states that he arrived at William Dickson’s on Goshen Swamp on March 21, 1756, where he preached on the Sabbath to a considerable congregation of Irish (Ulsterites.) This was near Kenansville. He later continued 12 miles north to a Mr. Gavin’s and then proceeded on to the Neuse River and then to Joshua Herring’s near LaGrange.
The Scotch-Irish were the first settlers in Duplin County and they were Presbyterian. They had much difficulty in getting ministers. Grove Church in Kenansville, Rockfish Church at Wallace and Brown Marsh in Bladen County were all organized in 1756 by the Rev. Hugh McAden. With the coming of the Baptist ministers from Virginia, many Scotch-Irish were converted to the Baptist point of view.
Hugh McAden was born in Pennsylvania sometime in the 1730’s of Northern Irish parentage. He attended Nassau Hall (Princeton) where he graduated in 1753. His instructor in Theology was the Rev. John Blair. He was licensed to preach by the Newcastle Presbytery and in 1757, he was ordained by the same Presbytery. In 1759 he was dismissed to join the Hanover Presbytery which embraced Virginia and North Carolina.
On his missionary journey to North Carolina in 1755 he found Presbyterians all along the way with no organized congregations. He stopped over in Cumberland County and preached to some Scottish Highlanders at the home of Hector McNeill. They spoke Gaelic and he said, “Some of them scarcely knew one word that I said. The poorest singers I ever heard in all my life.”
In 1758 McAden returned to Duplin County and became pastor of the Grove Church where he remained for 10 years. He married a Miss Scott of Lunenburg County, Virginia, and had seven children, several of whom were born while they lived in Duplin, their home a short distance southeast of Kenansville. The oldest son, the Rev. John McAden, born in 1763, was a Presbyterian minister and lived at Hyco Hill, Caswell County.
In 1768 the McAdens moved to Caswell County where he served several churches and died on January 20, 1781. He died a few weeks before the British Army under General Cornwallis encamped in the community (Red House) for several days. General Cornwallis had a special dislike (according to McAden’s son) for Presbyterian ministers. The British destroyed many of
the personal belongings of the McAdens and among these things were the journals of Rev. Hugh McAden. One journal was saved and this one was reproduced in Foote’s “Sketches of North Carolina,” published in 1846.
In 1845, Hugh McAden’s son, Dr. John McAden, said of his father: “He always spent one or two days a week in private study and if he walked into the fields, he carried the Bible with him…..he would collect all his congregations once a year at his churches and hold an examination of those present. He administered the sacrament (communion) at his churches twice every year. He spent his life in attempting to convince all of their sins, and in rendering happy those who were members of his congregations.”
*Reprinted with permission of the Mount Olive Tribune