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Encyclopedia > New Bethel Presbyterian Church (Piney Flats, Tennessee)

New Bethel Presbyterian Church is the oldest Presbyterian congregation in Tennessee, according to church historian Maynard Pittendreigh, who authored a book about the congregation. It is located in the Tri-Cities area of Tennessee, in the tiny hamlet of Piney Flats. Presbyterianism is part of the Reformed churches family of denominations of Christian Protestantism based on the teachings of John Calvin which traces its institutional roots to the Scottish Reformation, especially as led by John Knox. ... Official language(s) English Capital Nashville Largest city Memphis Area  Ranked 36th  - Total 42,169 sq mi (109,247 km²)  - Width 120 miles (195 km)  - Length 440 miles (710 km)  - % water 2. ... The Rev. ... In Tennessee, the name Tri-Cities refers to the region surrounding the cities of Kingsport, Johnson City, and Bristol. ... Piney Flats, Tennessee, is a place in Sullivan County in the U.S. state of Tennessee. ...

The church was founded by the Reverend Dr. Joseph Rhea, who was the pastor of the Piney Creek Presbyterian Church in Maryland. He joined a military campaign in 1776 as chaplain. Serving in Tennessee, he fell in love with the rich farmland and clear streams. He returned to Maryland and motivated the members of his congregation to move to Tennessee with him. Rhea died enroute, but his family and many parishioners made Tennessee their new home. Official language(s) None (English, de-facto) Capital Annapolis Largest city Baltimore Area  Ranked 42nd  - Total 12,417 sq mi (32,160 km²)  - Width 90 miles (145 km)  - Length 249 miles (400 km)  - % water 21  - Latitude 37°53N to 39°43N  - Longitude 75°4W to 79°33...

Charles Cummings, a visiting Presbyterian from Abingdon, Virginia, encouraged the settlers to build a house of worship, which they did.

Henry Massengale later wrote, "We hailed his coming with great joy for our souls were hungering and thirsting for spiritual nourishment. He urged the settlers to build a house of worship which we decided to do. I was to furnish logs, boards and all timbers needed to build a large house, with a section of benches in the back side for the Massengale and Cobb negroes, numbering at this time, 151 souls, so these slaves can come out and be refreshed in body and soul. This house of worship was completed by July 1777, and was known as the Massengill House of Worship."

Shortly afterward, Samuel Doak took charge of the new congregation. Doak is credited with being Tennessee's first Christian minister. There were, of course, others who preceded Doak, but none of them became residents of Tennessee. Some were chaplains serving in Tennessee for a short time. Others were visiting preachers from Virginia serving the few and scattered settlers. Doak, on the other hand, made his home in Tennessee. Once here, he founded some 25 churches and several schools, including Washington Academy and Tusculum College. Tusculum College is a private four-year college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church located in Tusculum, Tennessee, a suburb of Greeneville, Tennessee. ...

The young Doaks found life on the frontier difficult. At one time, Samuel Doak left his home in the Forks Community to go to nearby Abingdon, Virginia, for supplies. He left his wife and child at home. A barking dog warned Esther Doak of the approach of a group of hostile Cherokees. With the baby asleep in her arms, she quietly left the cabin and hid in the woods. She watched the Indians rob the house of some furniture before setting the building on fire. Throughout the entire ordeal, the baby slept quietly. After the Indians left, the pioneer woman walked through the forest. With no path to follow, she was able to locate her husband at or near Abingdon. [Pittendreigh]

Indians were not the only threat Doak had to face. He was also involved in the Revolutionary War against the British. Late in 1780 Doak was among those who joined the forces to fight in the Battle of King's Mountain. The Battle of Kings Mountain turned the tide of the Revolutionary War in the South and helped secure an American Independence. The Battle of Kings Mountain was a fight in the Southern Campaign of the American Revolutionary War, fought on October 7, 1780. ...

During Samuel Doak’s ministry at New Bethel, the church formed its Session, or governing body, in 1779, making the Session of New Bethel the oldest Presbyterian session in the state of Tennessee. It is also the oldest continuing governing body in the state of Tennessee. The charter elders of the session were John Alison, James Gregg, and Francis Hodge.

The Rev. Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh served the church in the 1990s and wrote an extensive history of the congregation, "A People of Faith." The Rev. ...


  • W. Maynard Pittendreigh, A People of Faith, The History of the New Bethel Presbyterian Church. Mustard Seed Books, 1996



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