INTRODUCTION TO BUFFALO CHURCH
This project began in late 1988 when I began genealogical research for Frances Weller Sutton
(Born-October 3, 1912 in the Jones Cottage on Third Street, East Sanford but moved in early childhood
to Morristown, TN) of Sanford, North Carolina involving the Matthews family that once resided near
Buffalo Presbyterian Church. I had begun reading from microfilm at the Wren Memorial Library, Siler
City, NC The Chatham Record newspaper printed in Pittsboro, NC in early 1988 and expanded this project
to include Buffalo Community items. I printed an article entitled, "Buffalo Community, Lee County, NC"
in the Central North Carolina Journal (Volume 2, Number 3 / September 1991) pp. 1-5; "Additions" thereto
in CNCJ (Volume 2, Number 4 / December 1991) p. 9 and "Additions" thereto in CNCJ (Volume 5, Number
1 / March 1994) pp. 11-13.
Mrs. Sutton instructed me to stop her family research and begin researching the history of Buffalo
Presbyterian Church in early 1994 for a bicentennial book for 1997. The church agreed to accept
money for "Historic Research" from anyone that wanted to help financially with the costly research
The original goal was to rebuild the records prior to the beginning of the Minutes of Session and
of Congregational Meetings on May 7, 1939 using a variety of source materials for a permanent church
archives. The records from 1797 until May 7, 1939 and two silver communion goblets donated by Elizabeth
Jones Williams (wife of Governor Benjamin Williams) were destroyed in the house fire of the former Clerk
of the Session, John William Wicker "J. Will" on Saturday night, September 27, 1947 at 12:00 a.m.
Morgan C. Jackson and I began reading from microfilm at the Lee County Library, Sanford, NC the North
Carolina Presbyterian newspaper printed in Fayetteville, NC in the summer of 1994 beginning with the first
issue dated Friday, January 1, 1858. I proceeded to read this valuable newspaper as it moved its printing
office to Wilmington, NC (1874) and later Charlotte, NC (1898) for Buffalo Community references. The
newspaper name changed to the Presbyterian Standard [printed in Charlotte, NC] on Thursday, January 5,
1899 and somehow the North Carolina State Archives had never purchased the microfilm for this newspaper.
My good friend, Brian E. Caldwell from Sanford, NC was attending Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond,
VA (1995-1996). The original newspapers were housed nearby in the basement of The Library of Union
Theological Seminary. I read from January 5, 1899 until September 9, 1914. Fifty-six years of weekly
"denominational" newspapers generated the greatest harvest for accomplishing the above goal.
Another great source of "first hand" material were the diaries of Colonel Leonidas Campbell Jones,
namesake of the Town of Jonesboro, NC (now Sanford, NC) housed at the Southern Historical Collection,
Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC. I began reading in October 1994 beginning
with the first volume dated 1864 but he skipped until the year 1874. His family attended Buffalo
Presbyterian Church regularly and he covers the period 1874-1889 (except 1888) providing exact dates
on the construction of the current building 1878-1879.
My research trip in November 1994 to The Department of History (Montreat) of the Presbyterian Church
(U.S.A.) at Montreat, NC yielded still further formation data on Buffalo Presbyterian Church (1796-1797)
via Orange Presbytery minutes (1795-1813); I began reading the Fayetteville Presbytery minutes (1813-1824)
but never continued so I advise anyone interested any further church material to begin here; biographical
data on the pastors of Buffalo Presbyterian Church; first church roll and Sabbath School roll that I had
seen dated (Circa 1838-1845); Rev. William Sterling Lacy's Pastoral Record Book (1880-1885) had been
placed by his nephew, Dr. B.R. Lacy, Jr. (former President of Union Theological Seminary, Richmond, VA)
which added much knowledge to this time frame.
In August 1995, I began reading from microfilm at the Lee County Library, Sanford, NC the Central
Express newspaper (later- The Sanford Express (Begins- Thursday, February 12, 1891) newspaper) printed
in [by the Express Publishing Company (B. Cole, Business Manager and D.F. St. Clair, Editor) located in
the old Foushee building] Sanford, NC beginning [August 19, 1886. Editor David F. St. Clair "Don"
[later- Charlotte Chronicle (February 1891) newspaper (now The Charlotte Observer newspaper), Charlotte,
NC; Scottish Chief newspaper (January 1893), Maxton, NC; Newspaper work and Success (Circa 1897) magazine,
New York City, NY and Times-Dispatch (June 1917) newspaper, Richmond, VA] stated that "the first issue
came out the same day (Tuesday, August 31, 1886 at 9:50 p.m.) as the Charleston earthquake"] with the
first issue available (Volume 2, Number 5) dated Thursday, September 22, 1887. This "local" newspaper
provided another needed angle to rebuild the records of Buffalo Presbyterian Church. I read until Thursday,
January 19, 1928 being forty-two years of weekly newspapers (excepting several years missing issues around
the turn of the century) and later issues (1931, 1933, 1939, 1942-1943, 1947-1948, 1950, 1953, 1964,
1967 and 1977) dealing with the Buffalo Community specifically.
Buffalo Presbyterian Church was sent copies of all information located before and since Memorial
Day 1994 and Consult: "Misc. Collections Local History Z.1.66.1-30" (with full index on Reel 31) or
"Central North Carolina Collection, J.V. Comer" microfilmed in 1995 housed at the North Carolina State
Archives, 109 East Jones Street, Raleigh, NC.
I have truly felt the guiding hand of God throughout the research, filing, compiling and editing
phases of this project. The Holy Spirit has brought items to me on numerous occasions and reminded
me of previous material on file. I believe that God wishes to see the history of Buffalo Presbyterian
Church completed. He provided financially (via Frances Weller Sutton and many others) for three years,
leading to an abundance of unique and informative sources, which were located and copied from a variety
of research centers located throughout North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia. May this book and all
of the material collected honor God and benefit those interested in this historic Central NC church.
Edna Cashion Nunnery of Sanford, NC served as my right hand and primary Buffalo Presbyterian Church
connection. She faithfully followed up on hundreds of leads (via telephone calls, letters, personal
interviews, etc.) and clipped articles from newspapers, newsletters, periodicals, journals, etc.
Frances Weller Sutton of Sanford, NC served as my spiritual guide since 1988 and we have shared numerous
events that involved a spiritual dimension during the Matthews (and allied families) and Buffalo Church
(and neighborhood) research!!
Sanford, North Carolina James Vann Comer
June 18, 1997 Researcher and Compiler
1817 Camp Meeting at Buffalo Presbyterian Church by James Vann Comer
Let us travel back to the year 1817 and experience the fall camp meeting through the eyes of our
imaginary Irish friend, Jimmie Comber: "I cannot wait to reach Buffalo and see the new framed
church building built by Mr. John Voncanon. My feet are getting tired and I believe I have a
blister on my big toe. Finally we have reached the creek and I can wash my burning feet off.
My shoes are a little tight but they will limber up after I walk up the hill. Look at all of
the people, horses and wagons and I hear Mr. William Buie playing his flute !! Look Da, Look Ma -
Its our new church - It's so much bigger than the old log church. The pulpit has a tall box shape
with a sounding board above it.
That looks like a good place over there near that big oak tree. Okay Da! I hate to haul water
from the spring but I am thirsty after the long ten mile walk. Ma will need at least two buckets
for the chicken and dumplings but I love them. Good day Johnnie Dalrymple! Did you get stuck with
water duty too? Yeh. What is your ma cooking for supper? Dried beef because we had twenty miles
to travel. Why don't you eat with us - we're having chicken and dumplings! Okay let me ask Ma.
This trunk is heavy!! How much food did you bring? I forgot about those less fortunate Ma, I'm sorry.
Boy I am glad that I got that water now because I believe those were the best dumplings yet! Can
we go play now? Please. Okay. Rev. Mr. Murdock McMillan probably has two long days planned any
way. I knew I forgot something and I cannot wait till breakfast so I will chop some small pieces
of liter for the fire in the morning. Good Night. I can hear a fiddle and laughing near the church.
I see campfires and lanterns in every direction. I hear two owls calling nearby.
That was good breakfast Ma and I hear Rev. McMillan blowing the conch shell for prayer meeting. We
need to hurry its almost nine and he hates folks to be late. They say up at the Euphronian Academy
that he is strict but fair. Boy that sermon was pretty good but too many big words for an eleven year
old boy, maybe it will sound better this afternoon in Gaelic. I love to hear Ma and Da speak our
language! Especially the songs sung in Gaelic they make me cry every time.
Da can I blow the conch shell for the afternoon sermon? Rev. McMillan promised me back at the spring
camp meeting. Thanks Da!! The old folks say the first settlers brought this conch shell with them
from the old country and Ma & Da both tell how green Ireland is but they like North Carolina too.
They just miss their family members that stayed behind. They say I look like my Grandpa Comber but
I never knew him. Well here comes everybody. That was good fun!
Mary Buie is pretty and I like her. She said that I blew the conch shell the best she ever heard it
blown. Even better than Rev. McMillan!! Her ma was too sick to come as she just had her tenth child.
Mary brought me a fried apple pie and it was quite good. Her older brother, Samuel has my same birthday,
March 28th, 1806. We get along fine and like to race to the gourd hanging down at the spring and over
to the chapel. Some people call it the stand. It has a roof but is open on all sides. We hold "open
air" afternoon services there during the fall camp meeting and hold the morning services in the church
building; except on the Sabbath when all services are held there due to the large crowd.
Thomas Cole told me they just buried an old man slave, Cato in the cemetery last week. There is a
paling fence around this graveyard behind the church and down the hillside. All the boys like to
play down there but that conch shell sounds every time we get to having fun. Willie Wicker found
a water moccasin down on Buffalo Creek when he washed his feet yesterday afternoon and his father
cut its head off. We had fun scaring the girls with it.
Mr. Daniel Matthews' house is in front of the church and he says he will be buried in his own fence
corner one day. My Ma knows Daniel's older sister, Miss. Polly Matthews and we always visit her on
Saturday night. I like to play with their youngest sister, Isabel, who is almost three years older
than me. They keep their pigs in one corner of the house and go up a ladder to where they sleep
upstairs. I love to smell the pine boards sawed by Mr. Daniel Matthews, Esquire.
I am tired and told Da to go on without me over to the Jackson' campsite. They play good music but
the men folk drink and I get in the way. I hear talking and laughter but I am too tired to care.
Well the Sabbath is finally here and I enjoy the fall communion service. Elders Malcolm McGilvary,
both Duncan McIvers "Deep River and Miller" aid Rev. McMillan at the close of the second sermon in
giving out the lead communion tokens stamped with a "B" for Buffalo to the "communicants." These
tokens admitted folks to the sacramental table and they solemnly headed towards the church, singing
as they went: "Children of the Heavenly King, As ye journey sweetly sing." I like to watch it from
the hillside but I am too young to join in yet. Next year we will have two silver goblets from Governor
Benjamin Williams' widow, Elizabeth who just died in New Bern according to Rev. McMillan. The bread
and wine are passed to the group at the table and then another group comes forward until everyone is
served. That usually takes about two hours and I am about to starve to death! I keep dreaming of Ma's
trunk of food.
My new pocket knife is admired by most of the boys my age but I find that apples are best cut with it.
Isabel Matthews gave me two last night to tide me over during the communion service.
The children always eat after all the rest and the sun was nearly setting when I finally got to revisit
Ma's trunk. We will head home in the morning so I must close an exciting day at Buffalo.
I woke up to the sound of people returning home and could not believe that two full days had already
pasted. It took us almost all of Friday to get here so I guess that most of Monday will be spent
getting another blister on my other big toe. Spring will bring my 12th birthday and the next camp
meeting and communion service at Buffalo Presbyterian Church which will be twenty-one years old itself
©Copyright 2006 by James Vann Comer
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